Long life and full body wine, Barbera d’Asti Superiore can compete with the most important Italian red wine.
If you look up the word superior in the dictionary, you’re likely to see the following definitions:
- higher in station, rank, degree, importance, etc.
- above the average in excellence, merit, intelligence, etc.
- of higher grade or quality
But for or purposes here today – taking a closer look at Barbera d’Asti Superiore – you need to go a bit further down on that list, to about the sixth definition:
- not yielding or susceptible
Technically, the Superiore in Barbera d’Asti Superiore (the next stop on the regional quality pyramid after Barbera d’Asti) doesn’t actually mean “superior;” it means “higher.” But if you picture a bottle of Barbera wine standing firm atop a high hill, ready to take on any and all challengers, then you’ll get a good mental idea of the spirit behind the Barbera d’Asti Superiore quality wine designation and why it can actually be “superior” to Barbera d’Asti in the first, second, third, and, yes, sixth definitions of the word.
Before we can get too far into this soulful picture of Superiore and its multipli-defined superiority, we need to get some of the technical bits out of the way.
Ostensibly, Barbera d’Asti Superiore has very specific production regulations that are meant to ensure a higher basic quality level of any wine carrying its name. These include specifications such as these:
- The finished wine must be at least 12.50% alcohol by volume
- It cannot be released before January 1st of the the second year following the harvest, which means that…
- It has to have a minimum aging period of fourteen months, six of which have to be in oak barrels.
- There are additional minimal requirements on dry extract (a technical term for wine solids, more of which basically
means a bigger, more full-bodied wine) and total acidity (which makes the wine food-friendly, refreshing, and also provides structure for aging), too.
Bear in mind that many, many producers of Barbera d’Asti Superiore regularly exceed all of those requirements. So what does all of that mean?
It means that in the Superiore wines, you’re getting the vibrant red fruitiness and piquant acidity for which Barbera d’Asti is justifiable famous, but you’re also getting a more complex presentation of Barbera. One with spicy notes of chocolate, vanilla, and espresso that complement its lusher, fruity taste. The Superiore take on Barbera, is more intense, more persistent, and usually more unique.
So, now you’re probably getting a sense of the “higher in station,” “above average in exellence,” and “of higher grade or quality” aspects of the Superiore designation. But there’s more to Superiore when it comes to Barbera, and for lovers of fine red wines, the rest is important.
The higher extract and alcohol requirements mean that there are more ripe fruit flavors to accompany and balance the acidity; the barrel aging makes the wine a bit rounder in the mouth, a bit spicier on the nose, and often provides extra structure to Barbera’s ample acidity.
Which brings us to the “not yielding” part of our definition.
Barbera d’Asti Superiore can, in some cases, age nearly as long – and just as well – as its Asti cousins Barbaresco and Barolo.
Even to many lovers of Asti-area red wines, that last sentence may come as a bit of a shock. But it’s true, and I myself have had the good fortune of tasting Barbera d’Asti Superiore that had been lying in repose in the cellar for up to seventeen years. The resulting wines can be absolutely glorious drinking experiences: tart, red, plummy fruit, cigar, but, and wood spice aromas, and with palates that are still vibrant and alive, perking up your tongue for that next bite of succulent steak at the dinner table.
In that way, as accessible as it is, Barbera d’Asti Superiore is a red wine that is far, far tougher than most wine lovers would give it credit for being. It’s not only a wine that stand on “higher” ground, but it also stands its ground, in some cases not yielding to the pressures of time and age for a decade. Or almost two decades! I mean, at some point when you’re drinking a Barbera d’Asti Superiore from the 1990s it hits you: “Whoa, this is delicious… and when it was made, I was drinking really, really bad beer in undergrad!”
Think about how extraordinary that is, that a wine based on a grape as fruity and friendly as Barbera can hang with the aging potential of some of the bigger, brawnier, and more bombastic Nebbiolo-based reds from Barolo. Granted, we are talking about two very, very different drinking experiences (so let’s not go too crazy in making taste comparisons between Barolo/Barbaresco and Barbera d’Asti).
But in this case, it’s worth taking a moment to stand back and briefly marvel at the fact that Barbera d’Asti Superiore can stand stand tall; that it can stand up and go toe-to-toe with any other red wine from Asti when it comes to complexity and longevity (all while costing about half of the price).